We all know that on some level exercise is good for us.
It helps to control weight, strengthens the heart and lungs, releases natural endorphins and gives us the best kind of feel-good high.
When you look specifically at what exercise can do for us as we age—and how it can preemptively combat some of the most common age-related diseases and ailments, it’s clear that exercise is as close to the latest anti ageing miracle drug as we’ve got.
Dr Walter Bortz
Dr Bortz is a Clinical Professor of medicine at Stanford University.
He began researching the benefits of exercising after his own personal experience of breaking his leg, after 6 weeks of his leg being in a cast, he found his leg was withered, to the point where it looked as though it belonged to someone much older.
On the back of this discovery, he started carrying out his own exercise programs on people aged 70 and above, what he found was really interesting:
- If someone starts a program of moderate activity for 6 months, they can expect their oxygen transporting ability to be improved by some fifteen years.
- However, if they went on to achieve an athlete’s level of conditioning, they can potentially regain 30 years ‘maximum optimum potential’ or V0/2.
- They also experience many of the physiological and psychological effects of rejuvenation
Dr Bortz’s research, also found that a lack of exercise can produce bodily changes that were parallel to those associated with ageing, but with regular sustained exercise the onset of ageing can be greatly reduced.
He quoted in his article, “running as armour”, that exercise as you age is imperative, because exercise appears front and centre as the behavioural fact of life, that threatens health as we age.
We were born to run
Astonishingly according to decades of study and many longevity researchers, running is and always has been, one of the best preventers for warding off premature ageing.
David Raichlen, PhD is an anthropologist who studies runners and the evolutionary history of exercise at the University of Arizona. In a 2014 paper in Neurosciences, he discusses how running allowed Homo-sapiens to reach old age.
He says we need to look to our ancestors, which makes sense when you consider running is a natural life-extender – because it was integral to our survival. Our bodies adapted to running because we had to do it to get food, he goes on to say that our ancestors were constantly running—for our food, from our food—which reduced the chances of developing these diseases, or put another way: Not running actually goes against our own evolutionary history.
The secret begins with the heart
Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death. Age causes our arteries to stiffen; they arent as flexible and can’t widen to accommodate the increase in blood flow, and this is particularly true in the aorta, the artery leading from the heart, and in the carotid arteries, which run from the chest to head. When these changes happen, major cardiac incidents can occur. We know that cognitive decline with ageing and disease are significantly due to decline in artery function and health.
Heart: Aerobic exercise restores elasticity to arteries, allowing them to behave years younger, decreasing the likelihood of diabetes, kidney disease, inflammation and neurodegenerative diseases.
Immune System: Running regularly is linked to a stronger immune system, and it may even prevent age-related deterioration.
VO2 Max: The maximum amount of oxygen you use during exercise, naturally drops as we age which increases the risk of chronic illnesses. The best ways to keep VO2 max high is periodically pushing your heart and lung rate up with running intervals.
Muscles: As you run the impact of your body weight with each step, helps you to preserve muscle and bone strength—a huge component of keeping young.
Exercise and the skin
A study carried out at McMaster University in Ontario reported that, among regular cyclists and runners aged 65 plus, their outer and inner skin layers both resembled what scientists would typically expect to see in young, healthy 20- to 45-year-olds.
In other words, they looked much younger than their years. Some of the subjects who were in their forties had skin biopsies expected in those half their age.
A few years previously, scientists at the Saarland University in Germany studied the cell life spans of experienced middle-aged runners, versus people who were couch potatoes and noticed how much younger the joggers looked, describing the difference as absolutely startling.
The naked truth
As you can see the amazing physiological benefits of running and exercise has on the body as a whole is impressive.
Movement lubricates the muscles, ligaments and joints, if we become sedentary, those muscle groups that hold us upright, become unevenly matched, joints begin to stiffen and suffer from wear and tear, then we become less likely to move because it is not so comfortable; this is known as premature ageing.
So maybe the idea, that the best anti-ageing supplement you can take for your health is exercising, is not that far fetched? I’m not suggesting for a minute that anyone can cheat old age, but living a long healthy life, without any of the diseases associated with ageing, might be as close as we can get to slow down the ageing process.
As the research clearly shows, an energetic, free-moving body can help to take years off, so the next time you go to reach for the next quick fix or anti-ageing supplement.
Maybe it’s a good idea to throw away those tablets and put on your running shoes instead.